REVO C13428 (Festival)
Genre: Enclosed Vertical Tubular Fluorescent Lantern
After the invention of the tubular fluorescent lamp in 1937 by GE of America, its application to street
lighting was immediately recognised, but all development was delayed by the Second World War. After hostilities
ceased, trial installations using tubular fluorescent lamps were installed in Dublin (using trough
reflectors) and a year later in Rugby and London (using scientifically designed lanterns).
The advantages of fluorescent tubes were immediately apparent. The fluorescent tube was ideally suited for road
lighting, casting a wide beam across the road surface and was relatively unaffected by wet conditions
(which lead to streaks from more compact light sources). It's non-dazzling white light (due to the low
surface brightness of the tube itself) made it an ideal solution for the lighting of high streets, promenades and
civic areas, with smaller units used for residential streets. The only problem was the size of the tubes, which in turn
lead to large lanterns.
The first fluorescent lanterns were huge, bulky affairs, their size dictated by the bulb lengths, the enormous gear
and the limitations of the raw materials of the late 1940s: the lanterns consisted of plate glass panels and metal frames. The optical
system was also complex
treating each lamp as individual source and concentrating its beam in one area using parabolic polished
metal reflectors. Their large size, and equally large capital cost, made lighting authorities hesitant to use
Fluorescent's popularity increased as new aluminium alloys allowed lighter one-piece canopies to be cast,
which in turn supported new plastic moulded bowls. The optical systems changed again with all the tubes
contributing to the whole: a primary system of lightweight plastic refractors directed the flux onto the road
surface and fashioned the main beams; whilst a secondary system (comprising of white over-reflector)
directed light above the horizontal back to the refractor plates.
Therefore the lanterns became simpler to manufacture and, in turn, their purchase price decreased. They
were still an expensive option, but authorities could justify their use due to their excellent white light (as
compared to the more "artificial" coloured mercury and sodium lanterns). Fluorescent lighting was especially
popular in new town developments and many manufacturers pointed this out in advertisements.
The lantern's large size was still a problem and manufacturers took a tip from European practise and angled
the lantern slightly to disguise its length. Whilst this threw the light further across the road, it was usually
done for cosmetic reasons alone.
The 1950s and 1960s were the age of the fluorescent lantern: it's white light seen as an energy efficient
replacement for ageing tungsten and gas lighting. As gear sizes were gradually decreased, the manufacturers
took advantage by streamlining the lanterns further. Optical systems became simpler until they eventually
consisted of no more than the tubes themselves with a small over reflector.
The energy crisis of the 1970s prompted a rethink. The complex white light fluorescent lantern, usually
burning multiple tubes, was seen as an expensive luxury: a unit burning two 40W bulbs could be replaced by
a single low pressure sodium lantern burning a 35W bulb. The idea that orange light was unsuitable for
residential areas and high streets was swept away by economic necessity. Therefore, as an energy saving measure,
the tubular fluorescent lantern was gradually removed, to the extent that hardly any exist on
public streets anymore.
The use of the tubular fluorescent lamp for street lighting was over. (Although the future looks bright for the
compact fluorescent lamp but that's another story...)
Name: REVO C13428 (Festival)
Date: 1951 - Early 1960s
Dimensions: Diameter: 15.5", Height: 78.5"
Light Distibution: (No optical control)
Lamp: 4 x 80W MCFE/U
The REVO Festival was a symbol of civic pride and post-war optimism. It was
designed for the central streets of Birmingham in 1951 by its council as part of the festivities sounding
the national-tonic The Festival of Britain. However, Birmingham’s council members weren’t being futuristic
when designing their festival piece, as the REVO Festival had a strong classical design,
opting for fluted column and carved patterned canopy and spigot decorations. (It most definitely wasn’t the ‘Skylon’).
Vertical fluorescent was always a poor choice for street lighting as vertical linear sources were ill-placed
to through much light upon the road. Additionally the lantern had no optical control, the tall Perspex sleeve
simply acting as a diffuser. However, the science of lighting wasn’t entirely ignored: Birmingham’s engineers
hoped the indirect light from reflections of surrounding facades would light the immediate area; and the spread
of light into the heavens was also desirable as it alleviated the dreaded ‘tunnel effect’ which was so
unfashionable in the 1950s.
Therefore post-top vertical fluorescent were never the most popular of choices for Group ‘A’ lighting;
although they found favour in historical town centres where the lights doubled up as both (poor) streetlights
and building floodlights (as they washed the facades of buildings with a warm, ambient glow). They were also
popular along sea fronts; the non-directional nature of the light providing a gentle illumination over
the entire area. Additionally new towns chose more futuristic styled lanterns as a notable act of statement.
But it all cases, the choice of vertically mounted fluorescent post-tops was definitely a case of aesthetics
over good street lighting practise.
The Festival continued into the 1960s, but its poor light control meant it had limited application,
and it eventually disappeared from the catalogues. Most Festivals were removed in the 1970s and 1980s
when the cost of multiple fluorescent lanterns became too high, and their poor street lighting characteristics
finally counted against them.
Colmore Row, Birmingham illuminated by the REVO Festival lantern.
Although its usage was limited, the REVO Festival was installed in several towns,
managing to become popular with both sticky candy-floss seaside parades and snooty academic town centres.
REVO even produced a modern version, with angled lines and a tapered bowl, obviously anxious
that the Festival should have a slice of the new town action as well.
It’s design provided inspiration for a famous, architect-designed, limited edition. Sir. Albert Richardson,
searching for ideas when asked to design a street light for the city streets of Cambridge, used the Festival as
his prototype. The Festival leant its lines (and optics) to the Richardson Candle: a more austere,
linear version of the Festival which toned down its classical leanings.
Ironically, a lantern which was designed for the forward looking Festival Of Britain is now seen as a classic
in its own right. York conservationists
lamented the loss of their historic street lights when the Duncombe Place REVO Festivals were removed;
architect Ptomley Dean attempted to list the Park Crescent, London examples after a flurry of publicity through
the Evening Standard (but their history became confused, as a Richardson connection couldn’t
be proved, so English Heritage refused the listing).
Only a tiny number of Festivals now remain.
The column and lantern are unique and should be easy to identify. (Incidentally some lanterns were mounted on
REVO Scopas concrete columns instead of the fluted cast iron, although all
of these are probably gone). Whilst there’s nothing on the exterior of the lantern, REVO cast their
name into the base of the lantern where the fluorescent tubes were originally fitted.
In a word: none. The light is essentially totally uncontrolled, the Perspex tube acting as a giant diffuser,
disguising the multiple light sources within, and scattering light in all directions.
All the gear was mounted on the central spine of the lantern. (However, the original lamps, mountings and gear have all been
replaced in my example).
The REVO C13428 (Festival) In My Collection
This lantern was originally one of the eight which stood in Duncombe Place, York where it lit the approach to the York Minster.
The lantern comprises of a spun canopy, central spine, and large base casting which also incorporated a spigot. Four fluorescent tubes were originally housed in the lantern, a large Perspex sleeve acting as a diffuser to disguise the multiple light sources.
Pictured is the knurled canopy screw which, when unscrewed, allows the canopy to be removed and then the Perspex sleeve to be lifted off.
The lantern has been fully restored and painted black, which was York’s colour of choice.
The ladder bars were custom made by York City Council and allowed hanging flower baskets and/or banners to be hung from the lanterns.
After over fifty years of service, the lantern is still in remarkably good condition. This is primarily due
to most of the metalwork being made of aluminium.
Unfortunately the Perspex sleeve is starting to show signs of wear; the seam separated in the past, causing
a two inch horizontal crack to appear near the top of the lantern. More worrying however is the ‘crazying’ which
is starting to appear; a multitude of small interior cracks growing from several places on the sleeve. It
isn’t known if this can be halted, or even repaired.
The original wiring, bulb holders and gear have all been removed with two Thorn Popular Packs now bolted
to the central spine of the lantern. This has turned out to be both an elegant and cheap solution to replacing the lantern’s
ageing electronics and no difference can be seen when the lantern is illuminated.
REVO C13428 (Festival): As Aquired
All of the Duncombe Place Festivals were saved and distributed amongst collectors. This is thanks
to the kindness of the council (Ricky W. at City Of York Council), their contractors (Don A. at Amey) and the
organisation of John Thompson.
Pictures of the full restoration process can be found here
whilst a picture of the lantern’s in-situ can be found here.
REVO C13428 (Festival): Other Shots
Pictures of the lantern after the first snowfall of February 2009.